In settling a lawsuit, Guilford County has agreed that people have a right to pray, even during a pandemic and even when Guilford County officials don’t agree with their political views.
Way back in March and April 2020, law enforcement officials for the City of Greensboro and Guilford County arrested a number of members of the pro-life ministry Love Life for praying on the public sidewalk outside an abortion clinic.
Both the City of Greensboro and Guilford County were sued in federal court by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of Global Impact Ministries, which does business as Love Life, for violation of the First and 14th Amendment rights of Love Life associates.
One of the more notable arrests was of Rev. Lee Stokes, who is the pastor of Destiny Christian Center near the abortion clinic on Randleman Road. Stokes was stopped by police when walking on the sidewalk from his church to the abortion clinic and was told by police that he could not walk down the sidewalk while praying because “praying” was considered a demonstration and demonstrations were not allowed under the stay-at-home order.
The lawsuit noted that those arrested had complied with the stay-at-home order by not gathering in groups of more than 10 and were keeping the six-foot separation social distancing requirement.
In settling the lawsuit, Guilford County has agreed that engaging in pro-life advocacy on public sidewalks is protected by the First Amendment and that Guilford County will uphold the First Amendment rights of citizens in any future proclamation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guilford County also agreed to pay $15,000 toward the Love Life associates’ attorneys fees. The pro-life advocates agreed to forgo seeking additional damages from Guilford County.
The lawsuit against the City of Greensboro remains in place.
ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle in a press release stated, “The government can concern itself with health and safety and still respect the constitutionally protected freedoms guaranteed to citizens. From the beginning, this case has been about government silencing people because it didn’t like what they had to say. If abortion business could stay open to perform elective abortions during the pandemic, Christians abiding by health and safety guidelines should certainly be allowed to pray outside. We commend Guilford County officials for agreeing to respect the free speech rights of Love Life members and acknowledging their freedom to pray and speak in the public square, and we invite the city of Greensboro to do the same.”